Saturday I drove up to Bradford Ridge path in what turned out to be a vain attempt at Deep Creek Hot Springs. The weather report said the area west of Victorville should have a high of about 90F. I figure it would be worth a shot. Ninety degrees F is the same as 32C., right around my upper comfort limit for desert hiking. This would be mitigated by a swimming hole at the end.
I have been out the Bradford Ridge path before. The trail is familiar to me.
Of course I got off to a late start and of course, it took me 3 hours to do what Google maps said should take 2 hours. The trip up on CA Highway 18 is an adventure in itself. The road is steep. Despite being a 4 lane divided highway there are tight curves best taken at well under the 55 speed limit.
On this day, the hillsides were covered in wide swaths of Spanish broom. This invasive was brought over by early Spanish settlers for both its decorative value and its practical value. The long straight stems are perfect for making a broom with.
The Mediterranean climate of the California coastal scrub and chaparral was perfect for this plant which has now flourished here for centuries.
Highway 18 heads west along the southern rim of the San Gabriel Mountains. Along the way are small communities, all which have “rim” somewhere in their names. The first restaurant you encounter is the Cliffhanger, an impressive bit of architecture not quite dangling of the edge of a cliff but close enough. I was feeling a bit woozy from taking curves faster than I probably should have (vertigo in my middle name) so I stopped here and recovered while I had a bite to eat.
When I started this trip, It was cold and moist and overcast. As I climbed in elevation, I entered the cloud layer and it became fog. Just as I reached the top of the cloud layer, the grey haze rapidly became an extremely bright haze. I had to slip on my sunglasses and still I was squinting and felt a headache coming on. Then, almost without warning, I popped thru to clear sky and warm weather.
This is often called May grey or June gloom, depending on the month. Part of the wrestling match between spring and summer. Depending on who wins that day, it can be 60s and wet or 90s and dry.
A low-level wind coming in from the ocean can carry cold and wet air over the land for as much as a hundred miles inland. This is called an “on-shore flow”. Normally air would be warmer at lower elevations due to adiabatic heating and cool off as you gain altitude but this mass is very stable and doesn’t mix. Kind of like if you add cold cream to your coffee very carefully it will accumulate at the bottom and the hot coffee will stay on top.
If the wind were coming from the high deserts to the north, it hits the mountains – and being hot – has no problems rising up and over. It reaches the top and flows down the other side. Adiabatic cooling and then re-heating take place. Valleys close to sea level can become ten or more degrees hotter than the deserts where the air originated. These are called Santa Ana winds here but every area with large elevation changes have their own local name.
All these clouds slide in until they meet a mountain and then stop. Above this layer, the world looks like it is buried in a sea of white. Today the cloud tops were at about 4000 ft. So from the deck of the Cliffhanger, (5000 ft.), this is what you see.
Feeling a bit better, I continued on my way. There were LOTS of twists and turns ahead but I took care to go slowly and be gentle with accelerator and break.
Very easy to miss your turn or get right and left mixed up here. That is lake Arrowhead to the right. Once you reach Hwy 173, it is easy. Side note: Hwy 173 used to go thru to near Victorville as the only remaining gravel state highway in the state. Made the trip a lot easier. The CA DOT decided they didn’t want to spend the money to keep it open. Now it dead ends just beyond the Bradford Ridge trailhead. Austerity sux!
Speaking of the trailhead, this is what it looked like. I have crossed the bridge and am looking back south from whence I came.
On most trails, this would be a clear indication that one should keep one’s clothes on. But everyone here is headed out to the hot springs. It is the only possible destination. The hot springs and surrounding trails have massive amounts of nudity so…
This time I stayed dressed. After a comfortable mid-70s in the Arrowhead region, I’d dropped down to 3500 ft elevation and the heat was crazy. I kept my clothes on and my sleeves rolled down and unbuttoned for comfort. This was mid-morning and it was already hotter than the 90F the forecast had predicted. I may be a nudie but it is a matter of practicality above all else. I may be odd but I’m not stupid.
Much of the trail follows Kinley Creek. Because of the wet winter we just had, there is still water in the creek and a profusion of wildflowers in the creek and on the trail.
Kinley Creek and some of the foliage alongside it.
As comforting as it was to know there was a water source nearby, after an hour’s hiking it became abundantly clear I was not enjoying the hike. I was sweating but not fast enough to keep the heat down. The only part of my shirt that was wet was the area between my back and the backpack. Taking off my backpack for a few minutes when I rested cooled me off quite a bit. Everything else was bone dry.
Soon I found myself stopping to hide under scrub oaks and mountain magnolias for every scrap of shade I could find. (Always look for snakes if you do this. They need shade too!) No room to lie down and relax, I was always scrunched up and uncomfortable. It was along this trail I met a single guy, wearing just shoes and shorts and carrying nothing. He would regret his lack of sunscreen later. Then there was a young couple trail running from the springs back to their car. No water or any kit of any kind. The guy would run way ahead of the girl and then stop to let her catch up.
I concluded several things from this.
- They were both extremely fit. Running in that kind of heat would have killed me. You’d have heard about them recovering my corpse on the evening news.
- They were both extremely stupid. No water. And one misstep and it would be a painful and damaging fall one might not be able to climb up from. You could see a number of places where previous people had stepped near the edge of the trail and the trail had simply collapsed under them and down the hillside.
- Or they might be immortal A lot of young people go thru a phase where nothing can hurt them and nothing can ever go wrong.
- He was a less than optimal running partner. A good running partner matches pace. She was obviously not in as good a shape as he and couldn’t keep up. This isn’t a groomed running track. You need to be there if your partner needs you. The one who is exhausted is usually going to be the one who gets into.
So I talked to the guy until the girl comes around a bend and over the hill behind him. She caught up to him and I was on my way.
There was a wild honeybee hive right by the trail in a burnt out log. I watched the bees zipping back and forth between flowers (this flower was a thistle) and their home. Looked like a small nest. A large one would have had dozens of bees commuting and guarding the entrance. This one only had a few commuters. I believe that is a painted lady butterfly. (I could be wrong.) There are literally a billion butterflies in California this year due to the wet winter. And that is an alligator lizard frozen into an odd position while I took his picture.
There was no shortage of flowers for the bees to pollinate. Haven’t had a chance yet to identify all these. They don’t seem to grow in my usual hiking areas.
Walking turned into trudging. These photos are from the easiest hiking stretches. I lost interest in photography, was getting sleepy, and a headache was coming on. This was not fun. At this rate, it would take forever to get there. I’d empty my 3-liter bladder and be down to sucking creek water through my Sawyer water filter and soaking my clothes in it to get wet. Deep shade was in short supply.
I knew I wasn’t in any real danger. I could soak in creek water then hole up under a scrub oak until I cooled off and then repeat all day but that would be a PITA and leave me little time at the hot spring itself. In this case, I decided that discretion would be the better part of valor today and headed back, shy of my destination.
It really wasn’t the heat that did me in. It was age and lack of fitness. A couple of months from now, under the same conditions I would have made it. I would have acclimated.
Heading back, I passed two groups of people. One was two guys and a gal. Youngish, in the late teens or early 20s. They were on a day hike to the creek. Minimal lightweight clothes. They indicated they had lots of water on them but I only saw a liter apiece. Ah well. Young and immortal!
The next group was two gals and a guy. Maybe ten years older? I’d describe them as hippie types if this were the sixties. They were covered from their feet to the top of their heads with loose clothing, wore well-used hiking boots and carried full up backpacks. I knew I was only a couple hundred yards to my trailhead but he grinned and said it was only 4 more miles. As we passed on the trail he tapped my shoulder and said, “Take care.”
And then I saw the search and rescue helicopter fly overhead. I watched it make a bee-line to Deep Creek.
Back in my car, I started my car and cranked the a/c. At 1:30 pm it was 99 in the shade, not even the hottest part of the day yet. I would not have enjoyed that day. Instead, I drove up to Arrowhead where it was a comfortable 75 and took an hour’s nap in the shade. Now that was fun!